What Will Happen to the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa?

The Ko Olina resort area of western Oahu has long been renown for the wonderful, luxurious, and thoroughly appealing JW Marriott Ihilani Resort. Now, of course, Disney has stepped in and opened the Aulani Resort & Spa right next door (and by right next door, I mean it, the two resort hotels are literally adjacent to one another). I love the Ihilani in the Ko Olina resort area of Oahu. It’s such a relaxing, calm vacation resort, and a far cry from the touristy cosmopolitan hubbub of Waikiki. The positive feelings and memories of the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina, matched with knowing how Disney never does anything halfway, has left this travel writer worried about the Ihilani’s long-term prospects. How can it compete with the wizardry and fireworks of the Disney property?


Isn't she lovely? The JW Marriott Ihilani "glamour shot"

By reframing what it means to take a Hawaii vacation in the Ko Olina resort area, apparently. Knowing that the Aulani Resort & Spa will have the families with young children wrapped up, the Ihilani is now playing to what it’s always done best: Appealing to those of us who seek romantic vacations in Oahu, away from the maddening crowds. Because honestly, who among us HASN’T been maddened at least once by the ruckus and chaos that goes hand-in-hand with uber family-friendly resort stays? (If we’re all being honest, I should be hearing crickets.)

iew of Aulani Construction from Ihilani Resort & Spa, Ko Olina Oahu (Jennifer Miner)

View of Disney Aulani Construction from the Ihilani -- worrisome!

If I, a travel consumer, was worried about the Ihilani, it stands to reason that the people involved in its well being would have been thinking about this long before the Aulani was even completed. Brian Soma, the Director of Sales at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina, told me “We welcome Disney Aulani to the Ko Olina Resort and are excited with our new neighbors. ┬áThe Disney brand will help to strengthen the destination recognition of the Ko Olina Resort & Marina and Hawaii.

This is a great experience, with the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa offering hotel only accommodations to a variety of travelers — leisure, business, corporate meetings and incentives. We see our family business redeeming Marriott Reward points to enjoy the JW Marriott Ihilani location and accommodations as well the Aulani Disney dining options. Its a wonderful arrangement which provides more options to both resort guests.”

Romantic Hawaii Vacation at the Ihilani in Ko Olina Resort Area, Oahu (Jennifer Miner)

A romantic getaway at the Ihilani feels far removed from all the kiddie festivities next door

The new “Ihilani Lanai Dining” experience is part of the overall effort to reframe the Ihilani as a romantic, peaceful alternative to the Disney version of a Hawaii vacation next door. It involves a romantic dinner with island-inspired cuisine, either on the guests’ private lanai or set up on the oceanfront Lagoon Lawn. The Lagoon Lawn option includes a personal server, and a choice of menus with wine pairings. And hey — if you really want that personal servant (can we just say butler, or is that too frou frou?) for the private lanai dining option, you can have it, for an extra cost.

Now, business and leisure travelers know that Hawaii is one of the top destinations where Marriott Rewards members redeem their points for stays at any Marriott Resorts Hawaii, which obviously includes the Ihilani in the luxury tier brand category. In fact, the Hawaiian islands are the #1 redemption destinations for Marriott rewards customers. Working hard all year is made a lot more bearable with the idea of cashing out business travel points during a romantic Hawaii vacation at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina.

Hawaiian Designs in JW Ihilani Resort & Spa Rooms, Oahu (Jennifer Miner)

Is this casually swanky, or swankily casual? Either way, it's pretty great

Maybe I shouldn’t worry about the Ihilani after all. Disney’s Aulani resort will raise travelers’ awareness of the Ko Olina resort destination. More tourists coming to the western resort area of Oahu can only be good for the resort’s profile, right? Further, there are many types of travel experiences in Hawaii, and nothing beats the South Pacific for tropical romance. Two parents treating their kids to a Disney vacation at the Aulani could well be motivated to spend their next trip to Oahu in a more romantic vein — and for that, it’s hard to beat the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa. The Marriott Points redemption is the last (albeit very important) consideration that has resolved my faith in the Ihilani’s future.

Knowing that the hospitality experts there are working creatively to maintain Ihilani’s viability in the market of luxury Hawaii vacations is calming; almost as calming, in fact, as a vacation at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa itself.

11 Comments on "What Will Happen to the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa?"

  1. My husband and I stayed at the JW Marriott Ihilani when we were on Oahu (courtesy of the resort), and we REALLY liked it. I think it makes perfect sense to overnight there for business or as a couple, for sure. Indeed, folks with Marriott points to spend, would be smart to use them in Ko Olina.

  2. I’ve never been to either resort, but I would think the smartest thing to do is, as you said, let Disney play to their strengths in marketing to a family demo, and instead focus on romantic and adults-only travel demos. Also, they should play up their amenities that are open to the general public, like dining, a spa, nightlife (lounge, etc) to draw the adult guests of Aulani over to their property for a few hours. Any resort of quality will have no trouble attracting guests, even with the new Disney presence. The secret is great customer service.

  3. Personal, I think Disney moving in next to the Ko’ Olina neighborhood is great and will be great for business in the area. I doubt Marriott will suffer. As you see in the Waikiki area, there are actually a couple of Marriott brand hotels and they all seem to be doing alright with the competition. The Ko’ Olina area is awesome in my opinion and those who want to get away from the chaos of Waikiki will now have options.

  4. That picture of the setting is absolutely awesome. No wonder Disney wanted to build there, too.

  5. We like to think prosperously… So our view would be that it will enhance not hinder the stays at the Marriott.

    We’d stay there just because it is next to Disney.

    Nancy & Shawn

  6. Let’s hope people will recognize the importance of this kind of beauty….

  7. The main problem, of course, is the noise and possible crowding on the beach and in the lagoon (shown in the picture) that the two hotels will now share. Up to now, the Ihilani had the beach virtually to itself (except that all beaches in Hawaii are public). There are other pleasant beaches nearby, including one that’s just around the corner in the background of the photo, where swimmers can find several friendly green sea turtles that enjoy being fed by hand. Take your underwater camera with you if you go there.

  8. Lenore Greiner | October 12, 2011 at 1:32 am | Reply

    I’ve stayed there a couple of times & heard there that it’s the most booked Marriott in all Hawaii. And it is a magical, romantic place with its own market, couples & meetings.

    Sad, though, that the lagoon won’t be as quiet.

    Lagoon Four, by the Marina, will be the most peaceful, I think.

  9. I’m thinking it’s a good thing when I think about the alternatives. With that lovely piece of real estate, I think it would have been much sadder had say – the JWM sold the entire cove to a more super luxury interest, where not as many people would get to enjoy it. It is definitely a beautiful place! I wish I had a bunch of Marriott points!

  10. Since 2005, we have stayed at the JW Marriott while doing business at Pearl Harbor. We chose this Ko Olina resort over the Waikiki properties because of the peace and quiet. We chose the JW Marriott again for our trip this month. But unfortunately we will not be returning anymore. And that is not because of anything negative on the part of the JW Marriott staff. It has solely to do with the Disney Resort. The tranquility of the Ko Olina area is now violated nightly by the blaring music and noise transmitted through the loud-speakers on the Disney property. The staff of the JW Marriott explained to us that they have been receiving constant complaints from their guests and have tried to address the noise issue with the Disney management with no success. We suggested that the JW Marriott pursue the noise issue with local authorities because we believe they have to be violating noise ordinances. I’m shocked that residents in the community across the street from the Disney complex are tolerating this. We couldn’t tolerate it for a week. I couldn’t imagine living there. It’s unfortunate that Disney has ruined the Ko Olina area. If you plan to vacation there, pack your earplugs!

    • Thanks for the warning. We have traveled to Ihilani in its peaceful days and loved the tranquility. We are parents and now new grandparents and love kids, We loved that it was kid and family friendly and delighted in the happy children there but also we enjoyed the placid and relaxing calm of the resort. Having a noisy kids resort right on top of you is a different matter. We were there when Disney was constructing and worried it would be like having a daycare center turned loose at a ball. We are very relieved we didn’t follow through with our thoughts of investing in a timeshare in Ko Olina though we truly loved it there. Now we are turning our thoughts to Maui or Kauai for our next trip to Hawaii. With four lagoons there Disney has to build on the same lagoon as a formerly peaceful resort!

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